Friday, September 26, 2008

R.I.P.: Marpessa Dawn

Marpessa Dawn, Eurydice in the Film ‘Black Orpheus,’ Dies at 74
Published: September 26, 2008

Marpessa Dawn, who played the beautiful, melancholic and doomed Eurydice in the classic 1959 Brazilian movie “Black Orpheus,” died on Aug. 25 at her home in Paris. She was 74.

The cause was a heart attack, her daughter Dhyana Kluth said.

Ms. Dawn’s death followed by 41 days that of her “Black Orpheus” co-star, Bruno Melo, who played the title role. The family did not publicly announce the death until this week.

Directed by Marcel Camus and based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, “Orfeu Negro,” as it is called in Portuguese, brings together an innocent country girl, played by Ms. Dawn, and a trolley car motorman and gifted guitarist, portrayed by Mr. Melo. They meet amid the frenzy of Rio’s carnival and are soon swaying to a provocative samba among the crowds. But Eurydice is stalked by a man in a skeleton costume. Eventually, Orpheus finds her in the morgue. In the end, bearing her body in his arms, he falls to his death from a cliff.

Reviewing the film for The New York Times in 1959, Bosley Crowther wrote that Ms. Dawn conveys “forthright emotion.”

“A pretty, frank face and a gentle manner that suggest absolute innocence,” the review continued, “gather an aura of wistfulness about her that filters down into a melancholy mood.”

“Black Orpheus” became renowned for its soundtrack by the bossa nova legends Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá, with songs like “Manhã de Carnaval” and “A Felicidade.” It won the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for best foreign film in 1960.

Gypsy Marpessa Dawn Menor was born near Pittsburgh on Jan. 3, 1934. As a teenager, she moved to England, where she had bit parts on television, and later to France, where she worked as a governess and danced and sang in nightclubs.

After her role in “Black Orpheus,” Ms. Dawn appeared in several less successful movies and on French television. She also starred in several plays, including “Chérie Noire,” a comedy that toured France, Belgium, Switzerland, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Ms. Dawn was married twice. Besides her daughter Ms. Kluth, she is survived by four other children and four grandchildren.

More Articles in Movies » A version of this article appeared in print on September 27, 2008, on page C10 of the New York edition.

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